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Phylacteries and Hems - First Century Garments

Updated: Feb 24

The Gospels attest to the fact that Yeshua wore tassels on the hem of His garment.

Matthew 9:20 - “And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:”

Matthew 14:36 - “And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.”

Mark 6:56 - “And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.”

Luke 8:44 - “Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.”

The phrase “hem of his garment”, would have been referring to the tassels that Yahweh commanded to be worn on the four corners of one's garment, so that they would remember and keep Yahweh's commandments. In our culture, we could compare it to the tying of a string around ones finger to remind.

Deuteronomy 22:12 - “Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.”

Numbers 15:37-41; “ And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.”

These fringes or tassels, worn upon the garments of all Jewish men in the first century, were called in Hebrew “tzitziyot”. In the New Testament the Greek word is “kraspedon”. The meaning is the same.

(For more teaching on "tzitziyot" please see my teaching, "Tassels")

As this “tzitziyot” wearing was commanded in scripture, Yeshua would certainly have worn them.

In Matthew 23:5 we read: “But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,”

The “tzitziyot” (tassels) and the phylacteries were two different things, and I will discuss the phylacteries a little further in this lesson.

The commandment to wear tzitziyot did not contain the details for how long the tassels should be on one's garment. Here, Yeshua is admonishing those who made their tzitziyot long and showy; trying to impress mankind by appearing more pious than their fellow brethren. Yeshua condemns such a “showy” practice of one's supposedly heart condition. A person whose heart is truly right with God does not have to make a “show” of him/herself.

Today most people are probably aware of the garment that an observant Jew wears for worship. It is called a talit. It is a shawl like garment that has the tzitziyot attached to the four corners. However, this is not what Yeshua or His counterparts would have worn in the first century.

Their garments would have consisted of two garments: a haluk – which was a tunic, and the talit – which was the mantle. The undergarment, or the tunic, was a lighter robe which was usually made of linen. The mantle, or talit, was the upper garment and was draped over the tunic. It was one rectangular piece of cloth, usually made of wool, and was equivalent to the Roman garment – pallium or the Greek himation. It was a heavy garment.

The talit, the heavier garment, was the normal garment to be worn for all public occasions. It was considered immodest to wear only the undergarment – the haluk. The haluk would have been worn alone only when in one's home or when doing strenuous labor where the heavy garment would have been too much. However, the talit could be worn alone, making it the most indispensable garment of the day.

Point is, the talit of antiquity was a garment and not just a prayer shawl used during worship.

So, how did the talit become just a prayer shawl and not a garment? When the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and especially after the Bar Kokhba revolt of 135 AD, when the Jews were driven from the land of Israel, they were forced by laws and discrimination to give up their Jewish ways or be killed or face persecution. This persecution in the countries to which they scattered called for drastic measures so that they could survive as a people group. No longer allowed to wear their native clothing, or religious attire, the Rabbi's slowly developed the talit into the modern prayer shawl. Hence, observant Jews are not required to wear the talit in public at all times, but they now mostly wear the talit during times of private prayer or times of public worship in the synagogue.

One more scripture that I will add here, although there are more, about the talit is Matthew 5:40 - “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.” This scripture may not make a lot of sense in the English but from the mouth of Yeshua it would have been perfectly clear: “if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your haluk, let him also have your talit.”

Phylacteries is the Greek for the Hebrew word, tefillin. Tefillin, or phylacteries, were two small leather capsules which contained tiny slips of parchment upon which passages of scriptures from Exodus 13:1-10, Exodus 13:11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13--21 were placed. These small capsules were then strapped to the forehead and the arm. They did this in keeping with the commandment from the above scriptures. This explicit wearing of tefillin is not a commandment of Yahweh, as is the tzitziyot, but it falls under the category of “oral Torah” or “oral traditions” of the Jews. First century Jews would have perceived this tradition to be a commandment of Yahweh and would have worn them. It is probable that Yeshua wore them Himself. Again, things have changed since the first century. In the first century the tefillin would have been worn all day, except when working or entering a place that was unclean. Today they are only worn during times of prayer.

Ancient fragments of tefillin dating from the first century have been found.

In Matthew 23:5 Yeshua condemns the practice of making the phylacteries wide. Ancient capsules found from that period prove that the tefillin would have been quite small. So, here again, Yeshua is not condemning the practice of wearing tefllin, He is condemning the practice of hypocrisy.



New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, Bivin, David; 2007 by David Bivin. Published by the En-Gedi Resource Center, Inc.


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